Mission Improbable [2016] (Movie Review)

Mission Improbable (2016)

Plot Summary

The lives of several substance abusers and a pastor who lives a luxurious ministry lifestyle suddenly become interconnected as God leads each them down different paths to the same place: a Christian substance abuse rehab. They all have different motives and different reasons for being there, but by the time it’s done, none of them will be the same. However, when each person’s past comes calling, how will they respond?

Production Quality (1 point)

One of the most glaring problems with this production is that it’s over-extended and cannot adequately portray what it’s meant to portray. This is evidenced by very cheap and limited sets, locations, and props, as well as poor lighting throughout. The audio quality, both indoor and outdoor, are also both inadequate. While the video quality is mostly fine, there are a lot of strange camera angles. Also, while the editing is mostly fine, this is overall a very cheap production that really has no place in this era of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this film seeks to portray unfortunately realistic circumstances that can be found virtually anywhere in America, it does so in a very tone-deaf manner. Substance abuse is a real and serious issue, but this movie treats it solely like a spiritual issue (there are spiritual components, but not only that) and does so in a very legalistic and unrealistic fashion, such as implying that praying and becoming a Christian immediately cures substance abuse. However, there is a refreshingly honest look at church problems, even if the bad characters are total strawmen, especially the ‘bad’ women. It doesn’t help that all of the dialogue is painfully forced and has a very archaic style and tone about it. As such, the conversations do nothing to build or grow characters even though there are very steep character arcs that come as a result of reading Bible verses, which are also highly unrealistic. In the end, everything is magically fixed when the characters act as the plot wants them to act. Essentially, this is a worthwhile topic to explore in film, but screenwriters need to do so in the context of actual research about and\or experience with substance abuse rather than the total ignorance this film displays.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To top things off, this film contains some of the worst acting of the past few years. This poor quality includes weird scenes of cast members talking to themselves and is most represented by the very awkward and overly-practiced tone of the acting. Many cast members seem self-impressed for no reason and demonstrate tone-deaf emotional and line delivery. Elsewhere, emotions are extremely forced to the point parody. In the end, this film has very little going for it.

Conclusion

Nearly every movie starts off with a good idea. One of the most error-prone areas of Christian film is converting that good idea into a movie that’s worthwhile, high-quality, and accessible by several different audiences. If a film can’t be understood or can’t properly relate to people, there’s really no hope for it. This besetting sin of Christian film is an overall symptom of problems facing the church: American Christians, as a generalization (there are always exceptions), have difficult time understanding real people because they don’t know them very well. Until this changes, Christian film as a whole won’t change on the large scale.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the years of the Vietnam War, families faced many different unique challenges posed by the international conflict.  Milly and Gerald have recently been married, but they have been forced to live with Gerald’s eccentric mother due to financial challenges.  Milly’s sister Kate is torn between the pro-war and anti-war efforts due to her mother’s past suicide.  When Gerald and Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend Peter are called to the war front for various reasons, Milly and Kate must both live with Gerald’s eccentric mother Joanna as the world around them seems to be falling apart.  Together, they must rekindle the faith they were always taught in order to make it through.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sharon and Fred Wilharm of Mainstreet Productions have always had a commitment to building authentic productions.  Summer of ’67 is no exception, as they demonstrate a clear attention to specific historical detail in the props, sets, and locations.  Video quality and camera work are also quite professional.  Audio quality is mostly fine as well, although the soundtrack can sometimes be too loud and somewhat out of place.  As they are still transitioning from making silent films, some adjustments like this can be expected.  Also, the editing can be a bit choppy at times, which can cause the story presentation to be confusing.  Overall, with just a few more tweaks, the Wilharms are very close to mastering professional productions, especially those in need of historical authenticity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as Mainstreet Productions used to only make silent films, the plot of Summer of ’67 is not really what it could be.  It comes off as a loose collection of ideas that need better synthesis and organization.  The good thing is that the story does unfold without narration, but some of the dialogue is slightly expository.  Outside of a few interesting conversations, unfortunately, the dialogue does not do enough to build the characters as people.  Some scenes are too short and not explained very well, and time seems to jump from one thing to the next without very clear coherency or organization.  Thus, a lot of the characters come off as shallow, even though they have potential, and a lot of story ideas seem unfinished.  While the ending is very interesting and realistic, the lead-up is not quite enough to hold the attention of the audience.  Overall, it’s clear that the Wilharms really care about trying to making great films; they are just not quite there yet in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another adjustment from making silent films is obviously going to be acting coaching.  While this cast is mostly fine and has a lot of potential, there are one too many scenes where the cast members don’t appear to know what they are doing.  Some of the acting is too stilted and robotic in both line and emotional delivery.  As a good note, this might be Mimi Sagadin’s best role, but she needed a bit more screen time than she was given.  On the whole, this section is mostly average.

Conclusion

We know that the Wilharms really do mean well in their films, and the historical authenticity of this production has great value.  It’s definitely going to be an adjustment to move from silent to non-silent films, so growing pains are to be expected.  However, since the Wilharms have always been committed to improving however they can, we believe that Summer of ’67 is something that can be built off of for future improvement.  Perhaps next time, if a more substantial plot is crafted, the next Mainstreet film could be Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Jackson’s Run (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jackson is a troubled teen with a terminal illness who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.  Ever since his father died, Jackson cannot find any direction in life.  His mother is at a loss for what to do with him as he continually gets in trouble, so she sentences him to a troubled youth work program at a local church.  Jackson balks at first but soon finds a mentor he desperately needs and begins to wrestle with what is truly important in life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though this production is overall average, at the beginning, all production aspects are fairly cheap, almost like the introduction was a beta test.  Video quality and camera work are inconsistent throughout but do improve by the end of the film.  Audio quality is also poor at first and better later.  The soundtrack is somewhat interesting, however.  Sets, locations, and props are standard.  Yet editing is quite poor as transitions are choppy and the general flow of the film lacks direction and clarity.  In the end, it seems like more time could have been spent on this part of the movie, especially since the plot is so forgettable.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Jackson’s Run (not to be confused with Jackson from Decision) follows a typical and formulaic troubled character plot with no real surprises or twists until the end, and even so, the main ‘twist’ is quite cheesy.  There is really nothing creative to note here—characters are very one-dimensional and shallow due to uncreative and empty dialogue.  A lot of meandering ideas are present in this incoherent storyline that never really come to fruition.  It’s almost like the writers had to come up with a bunch of content to fill in the middle of the story because they just wanted to jump to the end.  Writing the end first can be helpful, but writing a plot only for the sake of the end reduces your chances of the audience actually making it that far.  Overall, Jackson’s Run seems like an incomplete idea that needed more fleshing out before going into production.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With ‘famous’ Christian actors Rusty Martins Sr. and Jr. and T.C. Stallings, it seems like it was assumed that this cast would be automatically good.  There are some bright spots, but there are a lot of moments where the cast members appear to either be not trying or to be unsure of what they are doing.  Sometimes it seems like they are phoning it in and they overall lack direction in the absence of proper coaching.

Conclusion

Jackson’s Run falls into the massive pile of low quality, forgettable Christian films that have no impact on anything whatsoever.  Though there may be a good message in a lot of these films and they are ‘family-friendly’, they are not making a difference.  Why are they not making a difference?  Production is not what it should be, the plots are lacking creativity and development, and casting is underwhelming.  What if all the money that was poured into these myriad forgettable films was pooled for a few truly dynamic movies?  The entertainment world would be turned upside down.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Seven Deadly Words (Movie Review)

They're always watching.........
They’re always watching………

Plot Summary

When the Bennett family moves to Connorsville, Indiana, to lead a struggling small church that’s running low on funds, what they find there is not what they expected.  They find a very small congregation who is largely controlled and influenced by a local rich family.  When Pastor Evan Bennett decides to disagree with them on a riveting budget line item, they unleash their full wrath on his family.  Can the Bennett family survive the onslaught and get their budget passed before darkness descends on the church forever?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Where to begin?  Seven Deadly Words is an experience unlike any other.  For starters, the movie is framed as a fake documentary, sort of like a found footage film, but lacking the usual elements of this indie film genre.  Needless to say, this docu-drama concept just serves as a crutch for poor production quality.  For example, shaky camera work and inconsistent video quality throughout are ‘masked’ by the ‘raw footage’.  The film is filled with constant reality show ‘confessional’ style interviews, which pump the runtime.  Aspect ratios are inconsistent, sometimes trying to depict camcorder recordings.  The audio quality is spotty, as is the lighting.  The editing is spliced together, like it’s literally an amateur documentary.  Again, all of this is chalked up to the documentary style footage, but it’s a stupid excuse for bypassing quality.  Watching this film is very isolating and confusing because of the choice to use this type of delivery.  Essentially, this is just a cheap production that poorly masquerades as a professional one.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This entire film has a strange undertone, like there’s an inside joke we don’t know about.  The movie gives off a very twilight zone feel.  It’s also filled with stupidly unnecessary concepts like the main character always riding a bike instead of driving.  As the so-called plot limps along and jumps from one thing to the next, you have no idea what you’re going to experience next.  Therefore, there is no coherent plot structure and zero character development.  All the characters are just randomly used, and some have next to no air time.  The villains are extremely obvious and over the top.  Dialogue is offbeat and off the wall.  The saddest thing is that this good movie idea about small church corruption is totally squandered.  After much discussion on complex church budget drama and other fake suspense, the movie lurches towards the most bizarre ending ever since Decision.  The bottom line is that there is basically no sense in this storyline and it just reflects another wasted idea ruined by poor planning and little effort.

Acting Quality (0 points)

While having an amateur cast is not an inherent problem, it’s usually ill-advised unless you’re going to employ some series acting coaching.  As can be expected, this was not done in Seven Deadly Words.  The actors and actresses often have random outbursts and rants that have no context.  The emotional vacillations are dizzying.   Some cast members cannot be taken seriously at all.  In short, this section rounds off a truly embarrassing creation.

Conclusion

By the way, there is no explanation of what the ‘seven deadly words’ are or why this movie is entitled that.  As mentioned before, while we know from firsthand experience that small church corruption (i.e. being controlled by one rich family or a handful of them) is very common in America and needs to be exposed in film.  However, like far too many movies before and after it, this one only serves to further blacken the name of Christina film.  The fact that this mess won any awards at all is truly disturbing.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points